IT administrators installing Microsoft's Vista next year may find the cumbersome and time-consuming desktop deployments of old truly a thing of the past.
A round of free tools comes with the new desktop operating system, under the umbrella of Microsoft's Business Desktop Deployment (BDD) 2007 framework. The tools will use imaging to make the installation of software on enterprise PCs far more efficient than the script-oriented methods used today.
There are other vendors who offer tools to move user profiles. ScriptLogic Corp., Boca Raton, Fla., which makes Desktop Authority, is one; Symantec Corp.'s Ghost Solution Suite is another. Microsoft's tools and framework are a vast improvement over what came with XP and earlier Windows releases, experts have said.
For these earlier releases, IT administrators used a wizard to set up files, determine desktop time zones, languages, etc., for deployment to a PC. With Vista, BDD now include tools such as an application compatibility toolkit and a user migration tool.
In addition, Vista includes XML-based answer files, which enable remote and unattended installations, script-based installations and other features that improve the installation process. But BDD is also a methodology that third-party vendors can extend to the Vista operating system installation process.
The framework has two scenarios: light touch, which means IT managers must still make occasional visits to a desktop for maintenance, and zero touch, which is hands off. "Both go a long way toward reducing deployment costs," said Bernie Klinder, a consultant for Blue Chip Consulting Group in Broadview Heights, Ohio.
Some of the new deployment tools can be used with Systems Management Server (SMS), through the Operating System Deployment feature pack (OSD).
For example, Vista is on a CD in a hardware-independent image file format that you can deploy straight from SMS, or a third-party management product, for zero touch. When Vista is installed, user profile information, documents, desktop settings, printers, etc., can all be automated.
"If this lives up to its billing -- the true zero touch -- that will make my job a lot easier," said David Driggers, IT asset management and deployment desktop team leader at Alabama Gas Co., Birmingham, Ala. "When the new version of SMS comes out, it will have [OSD feature pack] incorporated. Our goal is that by 2008 or 2009, our technicians will never have to leave the office again."
While BDD will be important to Vista deployment -- and administrators need to understand how it works -- some experts said they think zero touch is a lot to hope for.
"I'm skeptical we are at the point of zero touch for anything, but Microsoft and its partners will build on BDD as we move toward zero touch," said Michael Silver, an analyst at Gartner Inc., a Stamford, Conn., consulting firm. "Today, it gives me a framework to deploy Windows better, easier and faster with less touch."